The Champion
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The Champion by Heather Grothaus is sort of like your old teddy bear from childhood, the one with the missing eye and stuffing coming out. Despite all its flaws, you can’t help loving it, warts and all.

The year is 1077, in William the Conqueror’s England. There we meet Simone du Roche, who has traveled to England from France to find a husband. Her original betrothed wound up refusing her before the wedding, citing her “mad.” Simone, it appears, sees the ghost of her young brother, Didier, who was killed in a fire back in France, along with their mother. Meanwhile, Nicholas FitzTodd is also looking for a spouse, as his fiancée has just rebuffed him in favor of joining a convent. The two are caught in a somewhat compromising situation, so King William forces them to marry on the spot. The rest of the novel is spent trying to discover what really happened in the fire that killed Simone’s brother and mother, with a kidnapping plot thrown in for good measure.

Grothaus’s strength is her characters. They are well fleshed out and nuanced, especially Didier; he was really my favorite character in the book. Didier is precocious and affectionate at times, brooding and sad at others. He really seems confused as to why he’s dead, and the scenes where he finally realizes what happened in that barn are heartbreaking. I would have loved to meet Didier. He’s such an endearing character. I really enjoyed the scenes between him and his sister—and when Nicholas finally comes to “believe” in Didier, you can really see that Grothaus can write some great dialogue.

But while the dialogue is often great, Grothaus overstretched herself in the plot. It’s an extremely ambitious story, with more plot twists than your average soap opera. However, the author just can’t quite pull it all off—whether it’s just inexperience or lack of skill remains to be seen. The core story—which is basically a murder mystery—gets all mixed up with schemes and subplots, as well as main characters and secondary (even tertiary) characters. The end result isn’t as much a richly layered plot as it is a somewhat confusing mess. For instance, there’s a subplot concerning Nicholas’s mother and Simone’s father that’s never fully explained. And instead of being suspenseful or riveting, the whole thing is just confusing.

But as I said before, despite its plot holes and faults, I couldn’t help but fall in love with this book. Like that old teddy bear, I suspect I’ll be digging The Champion out from time to time for some “comfort reading.”

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